Tory laggards

Although it’s not official, the provincial election race is pretty much under way in Ottawa Centre. But one contender is struggling to the starting blocks.

With an election call expected some time this spring, both the Liberals and the NDP have high-profile candidates: Liberal incumbent Richard Patten and popular Ottawa city Coun. Elisabeth Arnold.

But there has been deafening silence from the Conservatives. Now we’re told they’ve planned an early-April announcement, for possible candidates and a date for a nomination meeting. But we’ve heard that before.

Who can blame them for hesitating? The Conservatives have never won in Ottawa Centre in the riding’s 33-year history. And it’s unlikely they’ll have any more luck this time either.

The 1995 election is a prime example. Despite the wave of Tory populism that swept the province that year, Conservative candidate Chris Thompson still came a distant third, with a mere 23 per cent of the vote.

This time, high-profile Conservatives have opted to run elsewhere. For example, Garry Guzzo is running in Ottawa West even though he grew up in Centretown and was elected as MPP for the soon-to-be-defunct riding of Ottawa Rideau in 1995.

Tory candidates have already been nominated in various other area ridings, so why the hold-up in Ottawa Centre?

Because they’ve already written it off. They have no hope of winning and they know it. If they seriously planned on announcing a high-profile contender — as they promised in December — they’d have done so by now. To build a defence against their left-leaning rivals, they’d need time to promote their candidate.

Ottawa Centre is the core riding in the second largest municipality in the province. Despite the likelihood they will lose this riding, they still owe it to the public to present a Tory candidate, and to do it with plenty of time before the election so voters can begin weighing their options.

The Conservatives have made such sweeping changes that Ottawa Centre voters deserve an opportunity to voice their support or opposition. They also need the chance to get to know the candidate and what he or she stands for in more time than a three-week campaign may offer.

But that time may have already passed.

It’s true that even if the Conservatives do get around to nominating a candidate, he or she may be no more than a sacrificial lamb — but that’s necessary for democracy.

The clock is ticking. But for now there’s only been silence from those lambs.

—Chad Paulin and Jen Ross